The College and ‘Clarinda’

Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns had many close and interesting connections with medical men during his short life. The College’s historical collections unfortunately don’t contain a large number of items relating to Burns. Naturally, the library holds William Finday’s 1898 book Robert Burns and the Medical Profession (Paisley: Alexander Gardner), among other 19th century texts on the poet. Burns’s connection to Dr John Moore is well-known, and we can illustrate this with our portrait of Moore, which hangs in College Hall.

A more hidden and subtle connection concerns one of the most fascinating of the poet’s relationships. His affair with Agnes Maclehose in 1787 – 1791 produced a famous, romantically-charged correspondence (in which Maclehose was named Clarinda). ‘Ae Fond Kiss’, one of Burns’s most beloved songs, was written for Maclehose.

Maclehose was born in Glasgow in 1758, daughter of surgeon Andrew Craig, who was a member of the College (then known as the Faculty). She married the lawyer James Maclehose at 18, but left him just before the birth of their fourth child in 1780. She returned to live with her father, then a widower, but he died soon after in 1782. As a dependent Agnes received a pension of £8 from the College. The Minutes of 1782 below show the application for the pension, and its approval.

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College Minutes 2nd September 1782 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Maclehose moved to Edinburgh, still married but formally separated from her husband. The College minutes throughout the mid 1780s list her as a recipient of the pension, known as the Widow’s Fund.

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College Minutes 22nd October 1783 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

This continued until 1787, the year she was introduced to Burns (who was by now being celebrated in the capital as a literary star, after the publication of his Kilmarnock and Edinburgh editions). Maclehose, a poet herself, was keen to meet Burns, and did so in December 1787. However, in the preceding month there was a change in her personal circumstances. In the Minutes of 6th November 1787, there is an entry stating that the Widow’s Fund committee “submit to the consideration of the Faculty, whether or not Mrs McLehose [and another recipient] are any longer objects of their charity” (see image below).

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College Minutes 6th November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Days after, the decision is taken that “instructions as appointed to be given immediately to Mrs McLehose  [and another recipient] that they are struck off the list of Pensioners” (see image below). No further context or explanation is given in the Minutes for this decision. The exact date of this entry is unclear, but it appears to be sometime between 6th and 23rd November 1787.

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College Minutes, between 6th and 23rd November 1787 (RCPSG 1/1/3)

Less than two weeks after this she met Burns for the first time, sparking a relationship that produced remarkable correspondence, and one of the greatest love songs ever written. Further research into Maclehose’s circumstances leading up to this fateful meeting would be a useful avenue for scholars with an interest in the women who feature strongly in Burns’s life and work.

The manuscript of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ will be on display at the National Library of Scotland at Kelvin Hall, Glasgow, on 25th January 2017. For more information, see the NLS website.

Events: January – June 2017

Our programme of events for the first half of 2017 is now available. We have some really exciting events coming up this year including our annual Goodall Symposium which will celebrate a very special medical milestone – the 150th annivesary of the publication of Joseph Lister’s ground-breaking article on antiseptic surgery. There’ll also be the chance to learn more about our digitisation project “Uncovering our Medical Instruments”, and our beautiful College Hall will house a unique pop-up art installation as part of Festival of Museums. Download our programme (7MB) to find out more.

Events programme January - June 2017

Events programme January – June 2017.

The image of catgut ligature used on the front of our events programme is a nod to our Goodall Lecture, Safer Surgery – the Lasting Legacy of Joseph Lister in June 2017. In addition to samples of catgut ligatures in our museum collection, our archives contain correspondence between Joseph Lister and William Macewen, on the preparation and use of catgut. Both had articles in the British Medical Journal of 1881 (i, 150, 185) detailing the development of this material as a key component of antiseptic surgery.

Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars – Winter/Spring Programme 2017

We have an exciting programme lined up for our winter/spring 2017 Glasgow History of Medicine Seminars in partnership with the Centre for the History of Medicine (part of the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University) – we hope you can join us!

Tuesday, 24 January 2017
Poles and Jews in Wartime Scotland: the Experience of Edinburgh’s Polish School of Medicine
Speaker: Dr Kenneth Collins (University of Glasgow and Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
A talk examining the relationships and tensions between poles and Jews at the Polish School of Medicine, based on archival records and testimonies.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017
Vitamins on Trial: Folic Acid as a Technology of Reproduction and Public Health
Speaker: Dr Salim Al-Gailani (University of Cambridge)
This talk examines the history of folic acid, its implications beyond reproduction, and the role of consumer activism in shaping public health policy.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Philanthropy, Patriotism and Paediatric Nursing: Glasgow’s Royal Hospital for Sick Children through five objects
Speaker: Dr Iain Hutchison (University of Glasgow)
Taking five objects as focal points, Dr Hutchison will discuss the roles played by charity, emotion, patriotism and conflict, and by often under-valued nursing care during the hospital’s pre-NHS era.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017
Regulation and Resistance – a history of non-human antibiotic use in the US and UK (1949-2013)
Speaker: Dr Claas Kirchhelle (University of Oxford)
This presentation will examine the long history of antibiotic use in Western food production, the development of agricultural antibiotic use, and examine why regulations designed to curb bacterial resistance developed differently in the US and Europe.

The seminars take place at 5:30pm (tea/coffee from 5pm) in the library reading room at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow. They are free to attend but please contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072 to book as places are limited.

Glasgow History of Medicine programme - winter/spring 2017

Glasgow History of Medicine programme – winter/spring 2017

 

 

Maister Peter Lowe and Glasgow

Our first event of 2017 will be an informal gathering in College Hall on Thursday 19th January to hear our Honorary Librarian, Mr Roy Miller, discuss our founder Maister Peter Lowe and the town of Glasgow, c1599.

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We will hear about the background of this intriguing man, his arrival in Glasgow from France in the 1590s, and what compelled him to petition King James VI to set up what became the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow in 1599. Lowe’s education and surgical training in France, and his writings on the practice of surgery, played a key role in how medicine and surgery developed in Glasgow at this early stage.

The event will take place in our College Hall, which features portraits of our founding members and of James VI. In addition, there will be a pop-up display of historical collections relating to our early history, for example our first Minute Book (1602 – 1688), rare copies of Peter Lowe’s 16th century surgical texts, and a pair of gloves belonging to the founder.

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Detail of first College Minute Book, summarising 1599 Charter (1602)

Our event is part of St Mungo Festival, now in its ninth year, which celebrates the life of St Kentigern, better known as St Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow. Find out more about the Festival and its programme of events at the St Mungo Festival Facebook page.

Here are the details of the event:

Date – Thursday 19th January 2017

Time – 12.30 – 1.30 with refreshments served afterwards

Venue – Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, 232-242 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RJ

To book – Email library@rcpsg.ac.uk or phone 0141 221 6072. This is a free event but places are limited.

16th Century Surgery & Comic Creation

Origin / foundation stories are so important to an organisation’s identity.  The foundation story should always address the questions – Why do we exist? Why do we do what we do? This theory has been well-used in marketing and branding, from products such as drinks and shoes, to film and literary franchises. We’re lucky at the College to have a very clear link from our foundations in 1599 to our current aims – to set the highest possible standards of healthcare.

Flyer for the event Glasgow's Marvellous Medicine - A comics workshop with Adam Murphy

Yet, there are challenges in how we communicate this. How do you engage audiences with the origins of a 16th century medical and surgical college? In November we worked with leading comic book artist and writer Adam Murphy for a creative workshop with families. Inspired by the 16th century foundations of the College and its enigmatic founder Maister Peter Lowe, Adam led us on a journey of comic creation. Under the gaze of the Maister himself in our College Hall, Adam used Lowe’s 1597 book The Whole Course of Chirurgerie and our 1599 Royal Charter to create graphic stories of surgical and medical improvement.

We invited families along and the event sold out very quickly, mainly through social media promotion and Glasgow event listings. It was important for us to hold the event in our main historical space, College Hall, where portraits of our 16th century founders are on display.

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The workshop kicks off in College Hall

 

Adam kicked things off by setting the scene of a character seeking medical care in the 16th century, and the various options available: the heavy-handed barber-surgeon, the expensive physician, or the unpredictable remedies of folk medicine. Then, via our 1599 Charter, he introduced the idea of surgical training and licencing of practitioners. Never before have the words “Out of the way, losers!” been attributed to the College founder!

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Adam’s initial rough sketches

 

The young people and adults taking part got hands-on instruction on the basics of comic creation, how to build characters, sequence stories, and most importantly, to take risks and make mistakes.

Participants spent some time viewing a pop-up display of our surgical instruments and old medicine cabinets, sketching these and incorporating them into their own stories. The audience chose a large amputation saw as the item for Adam to demonstrate some drawing tips (capturing the impact of the saw’s teeth, for example!).

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Viewing and sketching museum collections in the Lower Library

Wild ideas and the creative imagination took over, and participants let loose with a whole range of comic strip stories, all of which retained a link to the medical and surgical foundations of the workshop. Adam captured some of these ideas – particularly the introduction of a unicorn character which gets its horn cut off by a careless barber-surgeon.

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Adam capturing some audience ideas

The event was a great way to engage a completely new audience with our early history. Participants left knowing much more about the College’s place in Glasgow’s history and in Scotland’s medical history. And our feedback shows that many went home to draw more comics! We look forward to developing further creative events to open up our heritage and collections to a wider audience.

Find out more about Adam’s work at www.adammurphy.com.

The event was kindly supported by Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Scotland scheme.

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Glasses through the Ages: What’s Your Style?

Our digitisation intern, Kirsty Earley, takes a look at some of the fascinating items in our spectacles collection.

Eric Morecambe, John Lennon, Harry Potter – all figures who made glasses iconic. There are scores of celebrities (and fictional characters!) who have had an impact on the popularity of certain styles of glasses, which was certainly unique to the 20th century. From monocles to aviators, the styles of glasses and frames available today are as varied as ever. What were once used as modes of magnifying written text can now simply be worn as a fashion accessory. And with any item of fashion, there were clear trends in eyewear throughout history.

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

Folding pince-nez style spectacles

It is uncertain as to who invented glasses for eyewear, but it is known that they originated in Italy between the 13th and 14th centuries.1 Originally, glasses did not have sides2 that hooked over either ear, but instead were held on the bridge of the nose. This style was known as the Rivet Spectacle (Figure 1). Due to the lack of support, it wasn’t uncommon for the wearer to have to adjust to a position where the glasses wouldn’t fall off!3

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Figure 1: Illustration of Rivet Spectacles

From the rivet emerged the Scissor Spectacles, which were originally manufactured during the 1700s.4 Named after their similarity to the scissor shape, these glasses were linked to a handle for easier use. Understandably, these glasses were not for constant wear, but rather occasional viewing. Their design led the way for a style of spectacle popular amongst opera fans – the Lorgnette.

The lorgnette was invented in 1770 by George Adams.3 Although inspired by the design of scissor spectacles, the lorgnette differs in that one lens is directly attached to the handle rather than both (Figure 2).

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Figure 2: Lorgnettes

The example of a lorgnette in the College museum collection contains a spring mechanism, making it easier to carry (Figure 3).

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Figure 3: The lorgnettes had a spring mechanism which enabled the wearer to fold them away when not needed.

Another style of spectacle held within the museum collection is the Pince-Nez (Figure 4). Literally translated to “to pinch the nose”, pince-nez glasses were popularly worn by President Theodore Roosevelt. Although lacking sides, the pince-nez remained stationary due to the pinch of the bridge of the spectacle on the nose, and could avoid damage by securing an ear chain to one side.

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Figure 4: Pince-nez

The production of the pince-nez remained active well into the 20th century, and is still worn by some people today.

Frames with sides passing over either ear had been around since around the early 18th century, but this style became more and more popular during the 20th century. By this point in time, plastic frames, as well as metal frames, also became available for purchase. These frames tended to be much more durable and comfortable.

Wire framed spectacles

Wire framed spectacles

After the founding of the National Health Service in 1948, members of the public could receive free eye tests and also claim a free pair of glasses through the NHS.3 Although not the most aesthetically pleasing glasses, the number of people requiring spectacles was high. This ultimately led to glasses being seen as a fashion accessory rather than a sign of poor eyesight. Indeed today, the style and colour of glasses worn by an individual can reflect part of their personality, their identity.

Although the primary function of glasses in aiding eyesight has not changed over the years, the styles and designs have. There is now greater choice than ever, with even more emphasis on how the glasses look rather than what they do.

References

  1. Stein, H.A., Stein, R.M., and Freeman, M.I., 2012. The Ophthalmic Assistant: A Text for Allied and Associated Ophthalmic Personnel. Elsevier Health Sciences: China.
  2. The College of Optometrists, 2016. A bit on the side – The development of spectacle sides. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/side.cfm.
  3. The College of Optometrists, 2016. Rivet Spectacles. [online] Available at: http://www.college-optometrists.org/en/college/museyeum/online_exhibitions/spectacles/rivet.cfm.
  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2016. Museum of Vision: Spectacles 1700s. [online] Available at: http://www.museumofvision.org/collection/sets/?key=26.

Update (22nd December 2016): Many thanks to Neil Handley (@neilhandleyuk), curator of the British Optical Association Museum at the College of Optometrists, for lending his expertise to correct some inaccuracies in an earlier version of this post.

Macewen on wounds

We have had a lot of interest in our collection of the papers of Sir William Macewen recently, particularly the material relating to his early position as Police Surgeon in Glasgow (1871 – 1875). This relatively small part of the collection represents a short, formative and under-researched part of his distinguished career. It nevertheless contains fascinating material that provides some insight into the early work of the great surgeon. The focus of this post is on Macewen’s treatment of and research on wounds during this period.

The Private Journal (of surgical cases) covering 1872 – 1875 contains notes on a wide range of Police Office cases. Possibly the most common type of case is the treatment of wounds, usually penetrating wounds caused by assault or accident (the example above shows notes and illustration of a head wound). Macewen was interested in both the effective treatment of wounds via investigative surgery, and research into the specific causes of wounds for forensic purposes. These interests resulted in two notable articles in the Glasgow Medical Journal.

1876 saw the publication of his article ‘Wounds in relation to the instruments which produce them’ (Glasgow Medical Journal, viii, 1876). In the article title (above) he was listed as Casualty Surgeon, and also Lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at the University. In addition to its original purpose as an aid to accurate wound diagnosis, this extraordinary article provides a detailed catalogue of the clinical results and context of (mainly) violent crime in the city at a specific period. Detail includes the range of weapons used, and the context of the wounds caused by assault and accident (many involving alcohol). The image below shows how Macewen presented this data, and the eclectic range of instruments identified as causing the wounds.

tablesIn the article’s introduction, Macewen sets the context of these cases with an intriguing commentary before beginning his rigorous analysis:

The observations in the present paper were made on the living, as accident in part, but mainly the physical expression of human passion […].”

In addition to his move into forensic medicine, this period also saw Macewen challenge the conventional wisdom of surgical textbooks (and their esteemed authors). In 1872 and 1873 he noted several cases of treatment of wounds, particularly of the lungs, for example a case involving a 12 year old boy with a life-threatening knife wound. By adopting a bold, investigative approach (which was not at the time recommended when treating damage to the lungs), Macewen was able to locate a fragment of the knife in the lung. He then removed the fragment, using the antiseptic approach developed by his ex-teacher Joseph Lister. The page from the journal below records this case.

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Private Journal of Surgical Cases (RCPSG10/9/12)

His resulting article ‘Penetrating wounds of thorax and abdomen treated antiseptically’ (Glasgow Medical Journal, vii, 1875) was explicit in its criticism of the contemporary textbook approach to the lung. In his remarks on the case, he challenges the assertion made in recent surgical literature that the surgeon “should throw aside all direct or manipulative modes of investigation.” Instead, he boldly asserts that –

If, without complicating the original injury, an investigation is enabled to be made into the nature of such wounds, and an intelligent treatment thereby adopted instead of groping in the dark, an advance in surgery has been made.”

It is worth bearing in mind that at the time of writing, Macewen was still only in his mid-20s, and employed in one of the most junior surgical positions available.

In addition, he emphasised the adherence to Lister’s antiseptic approach to treating the wounds. In return, Lister wrote Macewen a note, congratulating him on the successful removal of the fragment of pocket knife specifically. This is among a number of items of correspondence between Macewen and Lister in our collections.